This is a
publication of


~ ~

Eric Maisel's "Van Gogh Blues" Explores Connection and Meaning-making as Treatments for Depression

Interview by Janet Grace Riehl

Janet Riehl:  Eric, what I hear you saying is that when creative people in particular maintain a connection to their mission or purpose (you call it a Life Purpose Statement in "Van Gogh Blues"), a connection to the value of their work, and their own value as creative people in the culture, they will be stronger in their work and in their lives. Is that a fair way to put it?

Eric Maisel: Yes. Even before you can make meaning, you must nominate yourself as the meaning-maker in your own life and fashion a central connection with yourself, one that is more aware, active, and purposeful than the connection most people fashion with themselves.

Having some ideas about purpose is not the same as standing in relationship to yourself in such a way that you turn your ideas about purpose into concrete actions.

Self-connection -- understanding that you are your own advocate, taskmaster, coach, best friend, and sole arbiter of meaning and that no one else can or will serve those functions for you -- is crucial.

I have come to believe the depression that we see in creative people is best conceptualized as existential depression, rather than as biological, psychological, or social depression.

This means that the treatment has to be existential in nature. You can medicate a depressed artist, but you probably aren't really getting at what was bothering her, namely that the meaning had leaked out of her life and that, as a result, she was just going through the motions, paralyzed by her meaning crisis.

Janet Riehl: Do you think people creating in American culture have a more difficult time making and holding meaning for themselves and their work than creative workers in Europe, let's say?

Eric Maisel: Yes. The very construction of European society, where people have more days off and more freedom to sit in a café and write, draw, dream, or chat, makes it easier for people to deeply consider how they want to represent themselves and how they want to make themselves proud.

That is why European movies are "more meaningful" than American movies: our culture is dominated by the idea of happy endings and by clichéd and superficial examinations of the facts of existence.

Because of our insidious pop culture, mass media, and bottom line-driven dynamics, it is harder for a creative person here to feel motivated to do the kind of meaningful work that is in his or her heart to do.

Janet Riehl:  Do you find any difference between creative media in how the process of making and losing meaning can happen? Do painters and writers or musicians and actors have a substantially different experience, or is the core of the experience the same?

Eric Maisel: There are many angles to this question, but let me focus on just two. Visual artists often produce one-of-a-kind products and have a hard time finding it meaningful that just one person will own that product, whereas writers can reach multiple "customers" with their creations.

So the visual artist has to make personal sense of this issue and figure out how to let it "still be meaningful" that her painting may end up on the wall of a doctor's waiting room or as one among many paintings in a collector's back room.

On an entirely different note, re-creative artists like actors and musicians often have to deal with the feeling that they are "only" serving the meaning needs of others -- the composer, the screenwriter, the director -- and often decide that they must also create as well as re-create: for instance, put on a one-woman show or put out an album of their own music.

These are just a few of the differences that arise among the different genres and disciplines.

The Van Gogh BluesJanet Riehl: On page 176 of "The Van Gogh Blues" you mention some of the difficulties that can occur in creative communities when creators attempt to come together and connect with one another.

You also refer to "marvels of relating," a phrase I love. What are some steps we can take to improve our chances of giving and receiving these "marvels of relating" within creative community?

Eric Maisel: The most important internal movement is toward the belief that other people exist and that other people count.

It is very easy to drift from taking sole responsibility for your meaning-making efforts, which is good thing, to a grandiose, arrogant, selfish, and narcissistic place where "only you count."

On the other side of the coin, if you grew up in an environment where the messages you received were about being seen and not heard, about blending in and not standing up for yourself, and so on, then you need to find the courage to stand up for yourself, to maintain healthy boundaries, and to exert your power as the meaning-maker of your own life.

One artist may have as his central task treating others better; another artist may have as her central task standing up taller.

  ~ ~

Visit Janet Grace Riehl's blog "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century" at for more thoughts and information about making connections through the arts, across cultures, generations, and within the family. You can also read sample poems and other background information from "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" on Janet's website.

Article Source:

~ ~ ~

Eric Maisel, Ph.D. holds Master's degrees in Creative Writing and Counseling, and a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology. He is a California licensed marriage and family therapist, a creativity coach and trainer of creativity coaches, and teaches through lectures, workshops, and teleseminars.

Dr. Maisel is widely regarded as America's foremost creativity coach and has taught thousands of creative and performing artists how to incorporate Ten Zen Second mindfulness techniques into their creativity practice. See his site for ebooks and more information on his work.

Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of more than thirty books - some titles at right >

Also see more articles by Eric Maisel.

~ ~ ~

E-Books by
Eric Maisel

Becoming a Creativity Coach

 The Power of Sleep Thinking
Phoebe Starts Her Novel: 28 Secrets of the Creative Life